Two weeks before the beginning of the fall semester is the day that the faculty “reports” to campus. It’s not really mandatory that we show up, but it does herald the time when we should begin our preparations for the new semester. Between then and the start of classes, preparations are interrupted by departmental “retreats”* and, at my campus, the University Conference.**
Despite the administrative interruptions, I was looking forward to being totally prepared with syllabi, reading lists, and paper guidelines all posted on Sakai and ready for my students. I’ve taught all these classes before, so prep would be just about updating and adapting materials. Or so I thought.
The trouble began when I got my daily email for the Chronicle of Higher Education that included a blog post about updating your syllabi. This linked to other posts and as I read I came to the realization that my syllabi were boring and as a result, my students weren’t actually reading them. For example: Art 375 Syllabus. I had been really excited about the changes I made to this one last year because I saw another professor’s syllabus that included literature, so I thought I’d try it myself. It made class discussions much more lively (though I found out later in my evaluations that many didn’t read the books) but the syllabus is dull.
This a simple update became a full re-design. I changed the layout, the fonts, I added pictures and I separated the writing assignments into separate documents. I spent hours selecting fonts, shifting things around, and paring down the information on the syllabus to one two-sided page. For all three classes, this took days. Just choosing the pictures to go one the front took forever. How do you select one image from the entire scope of American art that isn’t Wood’s American Gothic? Or Modern art that isn’t the Demoiselles de Avignon? The History of Photography was the same problem. I tried to make things visually exciting, and for my paper guidelines I think I went a tad overboard RESEARCH PAPER GUIDELINES. But I’m happy with the end results of the syllabi Art 245 Syllabus 2011.
This is just one of myriad examples of how I can turn a simple task into a major endeavor. The students didn’t seem at all impressed.
*this is a lovely name for what is a torturous experience: a half or full day long faculty meeting. They are usually held in a different conference room, often off campus, with generic catered sandwiched for lunch and urn coffee with sugar or sweet-and-low.
**which is not really a conference. It is a minimum of two hours in a folding chair in the basketball court listening to the university president give a “State of the University” speech that is a minimum 60 minutes long, and the Provost give at least a 30 minute speech made up entirely of vagaries. This is followed by new faculty and staff introductions and award presentations. After it all there is a small receptions with a buffet (and a line about 150 people long) and a small gift. This year we got a usb hub in the shape of a little man with a smiley-face.